SDE head Jevgeni Ossinovski told Estonian daily Eesti Päevaleht that to restore the normal working atmosphere at one of the leading academic institutions in Estonia, the Tallinn University of Technology (TUT), it is necessary to organize a new rector contest.
The university has been dragged into nasty argument over the election process of its new rector.
The TUT's Board of Governors elected IRL politician Jaak Aaviksoo rector by eight votes in favor on May 22, but four members, part of a 11-strong board, later said that they did not vote for the former government minister, meaning that at least one of the eight votes Aaviksoo received, could have been forged.
Despite this accusation and the fact that 25 members of the 41-member TUT Council also decided against Aaviksoo in a separate vote – 28 votes against would have been needed to veto Board of Governors' selection – on June 17, rest of the governors still stood by their choice.
On June 25, group of TUT employees, including two professors, took the decision to appoint Aaviksoo as the university's new rector, to court.
On July 7, four members of the Board of Governors of TUT stood down, amid controversy surrounding the election and reports that one of them intimidated another governor.
Mart Saarma, one of the most cited Estonian scientists with more than 200 publications and over 10,000 citations on his name, said that Toomas Luman, a prominent businessman and influential mover and shaker in Estonia, rang him and “warned about getting involved with a wrong sort of people”, a reference to other three governors who opposed Aaviksoo's appointment, apart from Saarma himself.
“Luman suggested to think over what 'side to choose',” Saarma said.
“I have not received a phone call like this for the last 25 years,” he said, adding that applying pressure like this should not belong to a democratic European country. “It only cemented my belief that we are not talking about electing the best rector candidate here, but there is another motivation behind it.”
Government has the right to nominate 5 out of 11-member board and Ossinovski was Estonia's education minister when the current Board of Governors was appointed. On Tuesday he expressed his regret over the ongoing saga over the election process.
“At the time, there were no internal or political intrigues at the university and the people I nominated, seemed competent and absolutely professional,” he said.
Ossinovski said that in the current circumstances, the only way is to arrange another rector contest.
“In a situation where some university employees have gone to court over the rector election and many have voiced their disapproval, where the education minister [Jürgen Ligi] has replaced the government-nominated governors – including one who voted against Aaviksoo – the best way is to organize a new contest,” he said, adding that Aaviksoo could run for the rector position again.
Ossinovski added that if the new Board of Governors, with government-named members, now confirms the Aaviksoo appointment, it would be regarded as the government's intervention to the university's independent election process.
The controversial election process is feared to slow down the development of the Tallinn University of Technology, where the alumni include world-class Estonian scientists, engineers and start-up entrepreneurs. TUT has been ranked among the 500 best universities in the world.
Editor: S. Tambur